Cultural Mapping of the Bhil Community

With a view to upholding and preserving the harmonious coexistence of diverse cultural traditions, the Rajpipla Chapter of INTACH has sought to document the lifestyle and culture of the adivasi Bhil community residing in the Rajpipla area in Saurashtra, Gujarat along the Sahayadri mountain range. The Bhils are one of the largest tribal communities in India spread over Gujarat, Maharshtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. However, Gujarat’s Saurashtra area seems to have the largest congregation of the Bhil people. Regarding the origin of this community, many mythological stories may be found in Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The project titled A Stroll Amongst Tribal Panorama, opens up with a narrative of the Bhil community and their symbiotic relationship with nature and how the Rajpipla chapter has been instrumental in bringing the local Bhil community’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. The present convenor, the former queen of the Rajpipla princely state, Rukmini Devi has been instrumental in collecting and recording folksongs even before the INTACH chapter came into being. The royal family has always shared a relationship of bonhomie with the Bhil subjects, which is evident from their folksongs, oral poems centring the king and the royal family. Religion seems to be the fulcrum of the life of Bhils. The religion of Bhils is a mixture of traditional religion with Hinduism. They worship local gods, ghosts and spirits but also local gods, spirits, animals, forces of nature and in celebration of their objects of devotion they participate in various festivities and fairs. They have their oral traditions in the form of folk songs, folklore, folktales and dances which are displayed during ceremonial and festive occasions. The present project looks into festivities like Shitala Mata Fair, Navratri, Holi , Dev Mogra Festival, Bhadarva Dev fair, Gher Dance, and so on. Shitala, the goddess of Chicken pox and Small pox, is worshipped with much awe by the Bhils. Surrounding the temple of the Goddess, the Bhils celebrate and organize a fair which attracts a lot of people. This special worship is marked by special food meant for preventing skin ailments like pox. Pandurimata, of the Devamogra temple in Rajpipla is worshipped by Bhils wishing general well being. A yearly pilgrimage to the temple is an annual festive occasion. Not only do the Bhils offer regards to the goddess, but they also engage in buying merchandise items and enjoy food of different kinds. A legendary semi historical, semi mythological figure of a hero Bhadarva Dev earns the faith of the Bhil people in the form of a God. His temple sees a heavy footfall of Bhils who perform religious rituals there. The Navratri festival at the royal palace of Rajpipla allows the Bhil people among others to worship the royal goddess while celebrating dances and community feeling. Similarly, Holi also sees the Bhil community coming together to dance and perform ritualistic customs. Gher Dance in tune with the festive spirits of Holi is a very popular festival of the Bhil community. The aim of this documentation under the initiative of the Rajpipla Convenor, Rukmini Devi in association with Jaivalya Shukla and Naina Jain, has been to reclaim the roots of the Bhils and to revitalize certain endangered and languishing elements of this community. The project also aims at encouraging the age old tradition of fun fair, festivities and music and dances of Bhils.

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